Earthwork has started at the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant south of DeSoto for a $24 million wastewater treatment facility.
Cpt. Glenn Coffelt, executive officer at Sunflower, said the plant will remove nitrates from the wastewater, which is released during production of nitroguanadine, part of a three-component propellant used in tank and artillery ammunition.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported last year that nitrate-laden water has been discharged since the early 1980s into two lagoons at the site. A monitoring well near the lagoons registered 1,091 milligrams of nitrates per liter. Federal drinking water standards allow 10 milligrams per liter.
However, the KDHE said none of the wastewater at Sunflower is known to have affected drinking water supplies in the area.
WORKERS BROKE ground on the east side of the plant about two months ago, Coffelt said, and currently are moving earth in preparation for construction, which is scheduled to take two years.
Water will be treated in a "sequential batch system," Coffelt said. Plant workers will introduce a load of water to microorganisms that feed on the nitrates. When the nitrates are removed from the water, workers will discharge the water to the Kaw River. The microorganisms die, fall into a sludge and the sludge is removed and landfilled, said Coffelt, adding that about 420,000 gallons of water will be treated each day.
More than 60 million gallons of water sit in the Sunflower lagoons, and Coffelt said the open-evaporation lagoons no longer serve the purpose.
"Production has exceeded evaporation capabilities," he said. "The alternative is to look at other means for treating that water."
THE U.S. ARMY has planned to mothball the ammunition plant in early 1994, but has considered closing it as early as this summer. The plant will be maintained for future use, but production of nitroguanadine will cease.
Despite the inevitable closure of the plant, a need for the wastewater treatment still exists, Coffelt stressed.
"The Army wants to portray environmental stewardship, and that water must be treated," he said. "It will take three years to treat the water in the lagoons. When the plant reopens, water would be pumped into the treatment plant."